By James Travers, Toronto Star, November 23, 2010
One of Afghanistan’s two big secrets is now out in the open. No matter how many deadlines NATO sets for withdrawal, the country will be hugely dependent on the international community far into the future.
Long whispered behind closed doors, that dark reality poked through the predictably sunny forecasts of the latest summit. It was couched as a warning to the Taliban that merely waiting in the weeds until NATO departs in 2014 won’t secure a default victory. But the caveat that circumstances, not time, will ultimately determine when western forces leave also obliquely acknowledges what is now obvious: Afghanistan is many years, if not many decades, away from standing steadily alone.
In the short run, Afghanistan is the place where young men and women in the Canadian military go to serve one or more deployments, some of them never to return, some to return wounded and all who do return will have been changed forever by the experience. We see a country ripe with corruption, ripe with poppies and heroine production and an illicit drug trade, ripe with the sound of sloshing U.S. dollars making their way into the pockets of the same people with whom they are fighting, and ripe with a failed, or certainly failing government. And we see no end either to the fighting, or to the half-baked "nation-building" efforts of the U.S. and NATO while AlQaeda has moved into the northern provinces of Pakistan, where they have found "cover" once again.
Now NATO has declared an end to combat in 2014, when we in North American believed the Canadian military commitment was to end in 2011. And the Canadian government announces a changed mission from combat to "training." And, presumably, if fired upon, Canadians will be empowered to return the fire.
At what point do NATO and the countries subscribing to this latest "plan" run out of dollars and political and national/international will to continue to prop this country up? Of course, if we leave, the Taliban who were in power when Al Qaeda did much of its terror, will return to power. Of course, the conflict and the nation- building in that country will be compounded by competing interests from Iran, possibly even North Korea and other rogues who will do whatever it takes to find a theatre for their dangerous war games. Failed states attract the least civilized players, just as failed communities attract the most unseemly human elements, playing on the tragedy they find in those failures.
As countries like Ireland, and Portugal teeter on the brink of an broken "balance sheet" and that list grows to include the U.S. with its mounting debt and deficit, both fiscally and also politically (as the country veers towards being "ungovernable", being held hostage as it is to selfish Republican political interests), and the G8/G20, the U.N. and the several other "national groupings" seem relatively powerless to move the international community towards collaboration in the face of extremely complex and competing and relentless forces, it is not hard to see both a rise in geopolitical turbulence and a fall in confidence everywhere that there is a resolution, or a period of relative stability on the horizon.
As one reporter put it, when speaking about the investigation of the Lebanese president's assassination, "perhaps there will be stability or justice, but not both" inferring that justice will provoke instability, and the price of stability in that country will be continuing injustice, with no prosecution of those responsible for the murder of Hariri.
The injustice of the attacks, presumbably with more to come, from the terrorists, whether they are planned in Yemen, Florida, Germany or Afghanistan, or anywhere else, as the forces of terror seek to recruit those who do not fit the "profile" as envisaged by the counter-terrorist agencies, is accompanied by increasing instability on all fronts. And the failure to bring both justice and an end to the terror, in all of its many forms, continues to generate instability, a decline in confidence that political forces, both national and international will become ever more impotent to deal effectively with the "cancer" of terrorism, the future we might leave to our grandchildren seems less than hopeful.
And when we add the complexity of the Pakistan polarities of both a "failed state" and a virtually un-commandable military complete with nuclear weapons, and the proximity of that state to AlQaeda how can we have confidence that such a tinderbox will not suddenly "go off" in flames for which there is no political fire department equipped to put them out?
This story in this morning's New York Times does not enhance confidence either:
KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.
But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.
“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”